Promoting the “Irishness” of craft beer

Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, has seriously stepped up its support for Irish craft beer. In the not so distant past, the agency was perceived to be more interested in promoting food rather than drink, save for a few token appearances of the likes of Jameson or Baileys. Of course this ignores the support for the occasional brewer like Carlow Brewing or Galway Hooker accessing export market data, making contacts or attending international events over the years. There has also been research reports and seminars conducted in the past. However, the inclusion of brewers in the Origin Green initiative and the focus in the Food Wise 2025 strategy underpin the renewed emphasis on Ireland’s drinks industry. Let’s not forget that newer breweries are now looking to really develop their export markets as part of their overall business strategy.

I have written on Bord Bia and the strategy of the government on various occasions on the blog. It is interesting to watch how craft beer is being promoted alongside our other food and drink offerings. There’s a trend to officially connect craft beer to other products. We have been doing so locally and independently for years but it’s great to see government channels exploiting the “Irishness” of craft beer. They’ve realises that these beers are interesting, new and have stories of their own.

Just a week ago Carlow Brewing, Boyne Brewing, Clever Man, Galway Hooker, The White Hag Brewery and Wicklow Wolf joined other drinks producers at the inaugural “Spirit of Sharing” event in London. The event was hosted in the Irish Embassy, which is a stones-throw from Buckingham Palace. It’s an impressive venue and no doubt would’ve helped attract potential customers the event. It was a somewhat regal trade event. The setting has been used effectively in the past to build export links for other industries so it’s positive that our alcoholic beverage producers can tap the same support. Let’s hope it can be replicated in other countries.

With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, initiatives ranging from greening monuments around the world to the traditional presentation of the bowl of Shamrock to the President of the USA show that we have unprecedented access for a country of our size in a ‘one week only’ sort of way. Bord Bia will of course use official events this week to promote food and drink. However, it went one step further this year by securing agreement to present both President Obama and Vice President Biden hampers fully-loaded with Irish produce. Taking pride of place in each hamper, was a bottle of O’Hara’s barrel-aged Leann Folláin. I’m sure POTUS, as a homebrewer, will appreciate this excellent beer. I have no doubt the VEEP will do so likewise and hopefully he’ll sip whilst reading one of his many collections of Yeats’ work.

Let’s see this trend continue. Enterprise Ireland is also stepping up to the mark by supporting a few craft brewers and having a new team looking at promoting food and drink exports. Even established investment funds are look at beer and whiskey as growth markets. Things are certainly on the up and I’ll drink to that.

 

Irish Beer & Whiskey Fest

The Irish Beer & Whiskey Fest kicked off yesterday and for five days I’ll be referring to the RDS as a second home. It would be rude not to when it’s taking place practically around the corner.

Even beer festivals cannot escape the Global Greening initiative
Even beer festivals cannot escape the Global Greening initiative

This festival marks the evolution of the Irish beer festival that took place around St Patrick’s Day in the IFSC over the past few years. However, those festivals were more of a large craft beer bar where breweries sent kegs rather than be present themselves.

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It’s by the organisers of the excellent Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival that takes in the RDS every September. This time it takes place in the Main Hall, a space that’s considerably bigger than the Industries Hall. The Main Hall may bring back memories for some of participating in the Young Scientist Exhibition (even as far back as when Aer Lingus used to sponsor it).

Whiskey always had a place in the September edition but it has gained more prominent billing for this festival. 7 cider makers are also represented and the food offering is the biggest yet.

19 breweries are present. Yes, this is a drop in the number of stands when compared to the last two editions of September festival. However, it’s been a fairly packed calendar for beer events of late with the Alltech Craft Brews & Food just a fortnight ago. Brewers have had to choose what festivals to focus on, how much beer to have on hand to attend them etc. Don’t worry there’s plenty of good beer to be had at the festival.

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Some to look out for include Mountain Man’s Sneaky Owl; Searbh Rua (Imperial Sour Red) and Coffee Rocket by White Hag; Enigma and Polar Vortex from Eight Degrees; and Buck It by Black Donkey. There’s cask beers on offer too so be on the look out for O’Hara’s Leann Follain and three from Station Works (stout, blonde & brown). These are of course those that I tried on day 1 of the festival. There’s plenty of good beer on offer from Trouble Brewing, Independent Brewing, Alltech Lexington Brewing, Rye River (also pouring Innis & Gunn and Coisbo), Porterhouse, Franciscan Well, Rising Sons, O’Brother Brewing, White Gypsy, Wicklow Brewing and Wicklow Wolf.

So far it’s shaping up to be a great festival. The new hall has given it a more spacious feeling, somewhat reminiscent of the early years of the September’s festival. It’s €2.50 for a half pint though above 7% beers are served in thirds. Some stands will give you a pint but not in the official festival glass. If you want a pint, you’ll have to make do with plastic.

Hopefully you get the opportunity to drop in in this festival.